Brainbelts – only a part of a progressive future

Last week, the US Republican Party held an extraordinary convention in Cleveland, an old rustbelt manufacturing town. I say extraordinary because I guess you have to be American to understand how grown adults can systematically humiliate themselves for several days with the rest of the world looking on wondering WTF was going on! Anyway, just down the road from Cleveland is Akron, Ohio, which is being held out as a model for the new era of prosperity in advanced nations. I caution against believing that hypothesis. It was proposed in a book I have just finished – The Smartest Places on Earth – written by two Dutch writers (published 2016). It carried the subtitle “Why Rustbelts are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation”. I do not recommend anyone purchase it even though it is getting rave reviews around the place. I see it as a sort of replay of the 1990s ‘New Regionalism’ mania that emerged as part of the Third Way movement, which the now discredited Tony Blair promoted as the entrepreneurial solution to turn regions into sub-national export centres to replace the ‘nation state’, that had been (according to the narrative) rendered powerless and irrelevant by globalisation. The book introduces the notion of the “Brainbelt”, which the authors claim are revitalising the “former rustbelt areas” and “bringing new competitiveness to the United States and Europe” – a sort of counter-strategy to foil the jobs lost to the low-cost nations such as China and the Asian economies in general. The problem is that the growth strategy seems to leave the worker behind!
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    Posted in Demise of the Left, US economy | 14 Comments

    The Weekend Quiz – July 23-24, 2016 – answers and discussion

    Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
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      Posted in Saturday quiz | 1 Comment

      The Weekend Quiz – July 23-24, 2016

      Welcome to The Weekend Quiz, which used to be known as the Saturday Quiz! The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention over the last seven days. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
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        The case for re-nationalisation – Part 2

        There was an interesting article written in the London Review of Books (September 13, 2012) by regular contributor James Meek in – How We Happened to Sell Off Our Electricity (you need to subscribe to read it). It discussed how the obsession with privatisation in Britain, which was meant to reduce state control of this sector, has led to the state still being dominant in electricity production. The only problem for the British is that the French government now owns a large swathe of the ‘privatised’ British electricity industry. The outcome demonstrates the absurdity of the whole privatisation debate. This example is not unique. State-owned enterprises have eaten up inefficient privately owned firms all around the world as governments sell off public assets in the belief that prices will fall, services will improve and costs will be lower. The reality now some 35 years or so into the privatisation experiment is that none of these claims have been realised. In many cases, costs are higher and the privatised firms rely on higher public subsidies than was the case when the operations were completely in public hands. Prices are no uniformly lower after privatisation. Profit-seeking firms seek to gain by cutting costs and under investing in essential infrastructure, which leads to poor outcomes for Society (blackouts, poor repair times etc). And, millions of jobs have been lost in this cost-cutting mania. As a result, we argue that a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ must include the case for re-nationalisation of many sectors, which are intrinsic to advancing the well-being of Society. Progressive parties should start researching and demonstrating how this policy will take us into the next century where green, sustainable production is the norm and there are high levels of public service available from these key sectors, rather than allow critics to argue that the re-nationalisation agenda is just a return to the dark old days of inefficient state enterprises where cronyism, nepotism and corruption was rife.
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          Posted in Britain, Demise of the Left, UK Economy | 23 Comments

          Irish national accounts – smoke and mirrors really

          Last week (July 12, 2016), the Irish Central Statistics Office published updated – National Income and Expenditure Annual Results – which revealed that between 2014 and 2015, the economy grew by a staggering 26.3 per cent (while the implied inflation rate was 6.1 per cent – difference between GDP at current prices and GFP at constant (2014) prices). They had earlier estimated (based on incomplete data) that real GDP would grow by 7.8 per cent between 2014 and 2015. So quite a difference. In expenditure terms, the CSO, estimated that “exports grew by 34.4%” and “Gross physical capital formation” grew by 26.7 per cent between 2014 and 2015. Over the last several months, I have received many unsolicited E-mails from people I don’t even know, suggesting I might bring my blog to an end because I am quite obviously incompetent. The reason: I maintain that Ireland is not a poster child for austerity. So do these startlingly positive National Accounts data suggest that my critics are on the ball. Does it prove that that austerity has turned Ireland around. Well, it doesn’t prove anything of the sort. What it actually ‘proves’ is the familiar proposition that if you add something large to something small and express the change in percentage terms the result will be large. That is what the latest national accounts results demonstrate. A closer examination of the results then tell you what that ‘large’ thing is, which leaves one to conclude that Ireland hasn’t made very much progress at all. Okay, so you can now stop sending me E-mails lecturing me about how stupid I am and look in public! Thanks.
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            Posted in Eurozone | 15 Comments

            Towards a progressive concept of efficiency – Part 2

            This is Part 2 of my discussion of how a progressive agenda can escape the straitjacket of neo-liberal thinking and broaden how it presents policy initiatives that have been declared taboo in the current conservative, free market Groupthink. Today, I compare and contrast the neo-liberal vision of efficiency, which is embedded in its view of the relationship between the people, the natural environment and the economy, with what I consider to be a progressive vision, which elevates our focus to Society and sees people embedded organically and necessarily within the living natural environment. It envisions an economy that is created by us, controlled by us and capable of delivering outcomes which advance the well-being of all citizens rather than being a vehicle to advance the prosperity of only a small proportion of citizens.

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              Posted in Demise of the Left | 7 Comments

              Towards a progressive concept of efficiency – Part 1

              Before I present the second part of my discussion about the relevance of re-nationalisation to what I would call a truly progressive policy agenda, we have to take a step backward. I note after the first part – Brexit signals that a new policy paradigm is required including re-nationalisation – there were a few comments posted (and many more E-mails received – apparently readers are happier berating me personally rather than putting their ideas out in the public domain) that I was advocating a return to the ‘bad’ old days of nationalisation where cronyism, inefficiency and trade union bastardry were the norm. The obvious next point was – how can I claim that is progressive and part of the future. In this two part blog (the second part will come tomorrow), I offer a framework for assessing these claims. Today’s blog foscuses on the neo-liberal vision of efficiency and reveals how narrow and biased towards private profit it is. In Part 2 (tomorrow) I will present the progressive vision and how it conditions the way we think of efficiency. Once we break out of the neo-liberal constructs and refocus our attention on Society rather than the individual then the way we appraise policy options also changes – it becomes enriched with new possibilities and understandings. We enter the progressive world and leave behind the austerity nightmare that neo-liberalism has created. We are then able to see how our old conceptions of nationalised industries or public sector job creation are tainted with these neo-liberal biases. And we are then able to see how policy initiatives that invoke scorn from the conservatives and many so-called modern progressives (obsessed with post modern constructs) have a vital role to play in a truly progressive manifesto. I split the discussion into two parts because the blogs are too long as they are.
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                Posted in Demise of the Left | 16 Comments

                The Weekend Quiz – July 16-17, 2016 – answers and discussion

                Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
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                  Posted in Economics, Saturday quiz | 3 Comments

                  The Weekend Quiz – July 16-17, 2016

                  Welcome to The Weekend Quiz, which used to be known as the Saturday Quiz! The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention over the last seven days. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
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                    Australian labour market – stagnating due to lack of overall spending

                    Last month’s Australian labour force data showed what a part-time employment nation we were becoming. The latest labour force data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force data – for June 2016 show that employment growth has virtually ground to a halt (although there was positive growth in full-time employment). The Australian labour market has stagnated with low to zero employment growth failing to match the underlying population growth, with the result that unemployment has risen over the last six months. The teenage labour market remains in a poor state and requires urgent policy intervention. Overall, with weak private investment now on-going, the Australian labour market is looking very weak and the Federal government should have introduced a rather sizeable fiscal stimulus in its June 2016 fiscal statement. That is what it should do now it has been re-elected. This should have included a large-scale public sector job creation program which would ensure teenagers regained the jobs that have been lost due to the fiscal drag over the last several years. We won’t be holding our breath!
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                      Posted in Labour Force | 6 Comments